“Mod New York: Fashion Takes a Trip,” A Special Exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York

Project location: UNITED STATES, New York
Project start date: November 2017 - Project end date: April 2018
Project number: 2015-047
Beneficiary: The Museum of the City of New York


The Museum of the City of New York celebrates and interprets the city, educating the public about its distinctive character, especially its heritage of diversity, opportunity, and perpetual transformation. Founded in 1923, we serve the people of New York and visitors from around the world through exhibitions, school and public programs, publications, and collections.  In our most recent fiscal year, we welcomed approximately 235,000 visitors, including nearly 47,000 students and teachers served through our Frederick A.O. Schwarz Children’s Center. 
All of the City Museum’s activities have their foundation in our extraordinary collections, which reflect and reveal what gives New York its singular character. The collections provide an interdisciplinary, cross-media resource for interpreting and exhibiting many aspects of the history of New York City, including the development of its built environment, its changing politics, culture, and population, and the contributions of many of its citizens in fields such as business, the arts, fashion, society, and government. The collections encompass a wide variety of objects—prints, photographs, and drawings; painting and sculpture; costumes and textiles; manuscripts and ephemera; theater memorabilia; and decorative arts and furniture. 
The Museum’s esteemed Costume and Textile Collection includes more than 27,000 objects that chronicle the stylistic evolution of the nation’s fashion capital, the work of New York designers, and the emergence of the garment industry, along with key moments and personalities in the city’s history. Highlights of the collection—unparalleled for its splendor, documentation, and unusual level of preservation—include over 100 garments by Charles Frederick Worth; the work of leading New York designers such as Claire McCardell, Mainbocher, Norman Norell, and Valentina; along with garments and accessories worn by major figures in New York society, politics, and the arts.   The Costume Collection is featured in critically acclaimed exhibitions presented at the City Museum and elsewhere.
Recent Museum exhibitions highlighting the collection include “Stephen Burrows: When Fashion Danced,” an exhibition generously supported by the Nando and Elsa Peretti Foundation; “Black Style Now;” “Valentina: American Couture and the Cult of Celebrity;” and “Notorious and Notable: 20th Century Women of Style.”
In addition, the Museum’s online exhibitions, including “Worth/Mainbocher: Demystifying the Haute Couture,” provide access to the collection for audiences from around the world.   The City Museum builds on the themes of its shows with a robust schedule of public programs, including book talks, gallery tours, lectures, panel discussions, performances and walking tours.

From November 21, 2017 to April 1, 2018, the Museum will present “Mod New York: Fashion Takes a Trip”—a major exhibition tracing the stylistic progression of the 1960s through a decidedly New York City lens, juxtaposing design and fashion with the decade’s political, artistic, and social-historical benchmarks. Structured around a memorable core of aesthetically groundbreaking and historically significant objects drawn from the Museum’s renowned Costume Collection, “Mod New York” will be divided into four thematic sections proceeding chronologically from 1960 to 1973.   During these years, women’s styles underwent dramatic transformations, not only in silhouette and length, but in textile manufacture. Clothing assumed communicative powers, reflecting the momentous societal changes of the day: the emergence of a counterculture, the women’s liberation movement, and the radicalism stemming from responses to the Vietnam War.  As fashion and the socio-political issues of the day came to a head, designers turned to the cultural changes to inspire their fashions; New York City, as the nation’s fashion and creative capital, would become the critical flashpoint for these debates.   Fashions of the 1960s are legend, as much for their iconoclastic energy as for their fearless ingenuity. Their distinctive look regularly persists in stylistic revivals, mined and re-envisioned by fashion’s emerging key players. Yet the stylistic diversity of the decade far exceeds its iconic statements: the pink suit, the miniskirt, or the homemade tie dye.   The show’s narrative will be driven by objects but grounded in a rigorous social-historical analysis—a series of full looks seen located in specific aesthetic, cultural, and political contexts.  “Mod New York” will show for the first time the full arc of 1960s fashion, from the Camelot-era evening gown and the Mod miniskirt, to counterculture tie dye and the Bill Blass jumpsuit. It will shed new light on a period commonly associated with these iconic fashion statements, but rarely understood for its tremendous stylistic diversity.    The approximately 60 distinctive garments and accessories on view in “Mod New York,” including jewelry, shoes, and handbags, will vividly bring to life an important era in the city’s history.  Among them will be garments designed by Stephen Burrows, including an asymmetrical, stripe-blocking evening dress (c. 1971) owned by avant-garde downtown art gallery owner Ethel Scull; several iconic pieces of jewelry designed by Elsa Peretti in the late 1960s and worn by actress Lauren Bacall, which were given by the legendary actress to the Museum, including a “Bone” cuff, a rounded lozenge pendant, a wide ivory collar, a red jasper stylized voided heart pendant, ivory voided oval earrings, and a silver stylized teardrop pendant; a color blocked mini dress by designer Mary Quant (1965); a gold metallic and natural linen matelassé dress from Mainbocher (1963); and a silk jersey evening dress by Emilio Pucci designed for Saks Fifth Avenue (1966). These will be complemented by archival and newly commissioned photographs, design renderings, and ephemera that evoke the spirit of the era—from product advertisements and original packaging to historical newspaper and magazine clippings illustrating singular moments from such publications as “Vogue,” “Rags,” “Harper’s Bazaar,” “Women’s Wear Daily,” and “Look Magazine,” among others.     This scholarly and engaging exhibition will advance the Nando and Elsa Peretti Foundation’s goal of supporting outstanding cultural and artistic projects across the globe, and it will highlight designer Elsa Peretti’s own contributions to this groundbreaking and iconic era.

The exhibition will be divided into four chronologically and thematically driven sections:  Section One, “Camelot,” moves stylistically from 1960 through 1963, bracketed by the decade’s dawning, the confluence of the December 3, 1960 opening of “Camelot” on Broadway, and the January 20, 1961 inauguration of the Kennedy White House. It concludes with the demise of that legendary time and its spirit in late 1963.   Section Two, “Space Age Modernism Meets the Beatles and a Youth quake,” begins with the British fashion invasion and the arrival of the Beatles in New York City in February 1964. It continues through Diana Vreeland’s inaugural published usage of the term “Youth quake,” in the January 1965 issue of “Vogue,” to examine the aesthetic, political, and sartorial confrontation between the old and new guards in the Ballroom of New York’s Plaza Hotel on November 28, 1966 at Truman Capote’s legendary “Black and White Ball.” Boundaries blurred at this iconoclastic event, where artists, poets, performers, and philosophers mixed with art dealers, financiers, power brokers, and well-heeled socialites.  Section Three, “The Summer of Love, Hair, Moon Walk and Woodstock: 1967-69 Counter-Cultural Tribalism” considers the fervent cross-pollination between fashion, art, and politics that informed and radically altered the look of mainstream as well as subterranean counterculture attire. It examines how the correlative dialogue between clothing and political dogma was ignited by the first anti-Vietnam protest march from Central Park to the United Nations—an event attended by 200,000 protesters on April 15, 1967. This “Peaced Out” spirit, first associated with San Francisco’s “Summer of Love” and imported to New York’s sidewalks and department stores, interjected an appealing, Arcadian tone to dress.  On April 29, 1968, the Public Theater’s pioneering production of the musical “Hair” arrived at the Biltmore Theater, imparting a raucous, tribalistic flavor to Broadway. By fall 1969, Woodstock had sent its psychedelic aftershocks into the fall fashion collections, lacing them with brilliant color and artistry. Startling prints became the norm, and makeup became audaciously theatrical, while hair stylists mined cultures and epochs to create fantastical mounds of hair that quoted Kabuki dance-drama one moment, and Edwardian romanticism the next. The early months of 1970 continued along this eclectic course but, within the year, these exotic garments would be joined by a fashion alternative that was tamer, more subdued, and bordering on anachronistic.  Section Four, “Decorum’s Return,” considers this “new nonchalance” in fashion and situates the neoclassical turn in style in the years leading up to the January 15, 1973 ceasefire in Vietnam. “Mod New York” tracks the history and the lingering traces of this fervently creative period in women’s fashion, positioning its legacy in specific aesthetic, cultural and socio-political contexts.   A variety of associated public and education programs are planned to accompany the exhibition, which will be curated by Phyllis Magidson, the Museum’s Curator of Costumes and Textiles. It will be designed by Studio Joseph, led by principal Wendy Evans Joseph, FAIA, who has designed several highly successful Museum exhibitions, including “Notorious and Notable: 20th Century Women of Style” and “Stephen Burrows: When Fashion Danced.” The lighting designer will be Anita Jorgensen, who has worked with Ms. Magidson and Ms. Joseph on these exhibitions.   As special technical consultant, Claire Brightwell Shaeffer will apply her critical eye and technical expertise to the interpretation of the couture, prêt-à-porter and home sewn garments featured in “Mod New York.” Her insights into the structural and aesthetic changes that took place in the physical structure of garments from 1960-1973 will significantly enrich both the exhibition and its accompanying publication, contributing an additional dimension to its socio-historical focus.   Dr. Sarah Gordon will also lend her expertise on the role of clothing within the feminist wave of the mid-1960s and 1970s, contributing interpretive text within the exhibition and composing a critical essay for the publication. Exhibition-based education programs for K-12 students will be developed under the supervision of Franny Kent, Director of the Museum’s Schwarz Center.  Dr. Frances Rosenfeld, the Museum’s Curator of Public Programs, will oversee the creation and presentation of associated lectures, panel discussions, and film screenings. A curated film series featuring the most influential films of the period (in terms of their visual/fashion impact) is planned, including “Qui Êtes-Vous, Monsieur Sorge?” (1961), “A Hard Day’s Night” (1964), “The World of Henry Orient” (1964), “Blow-Up” (1966), and “Hair” (1979). Each film would be introduced by a different fashion designer or fashion personality with intimate knowledge of the Mod period, for instance, designer and artist Michael Vollbracht (who designed for Bill Blass).  Donald Albrecht, the Museum’s Curator of Architecture and Design, will contribute to the show’s commentary on the pairing of fashion and art during the 1960s and 70s. His recent and well-received shows for the Museum include “Cecil Beaton: the New York Years” and “Norman Bel Geddes: I Have Seen the Future.”  “Mod New York: Fashion Takes a Trip” will be presented in newly renovated galleries on the Museum’s third floor, which comprises about 2,500 square feet. The scope of materials presented will encompass approximately 60 full looks, as well as design renderings, drawings, ephemera, and video to provide a rich historical context. In addition to items from the Museum’s own stellar Costume Collection, other sources of exhibition objects will include The Museum at FIT, The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Southpaw, as well as private collectors.   The exhibition will be accompanied by a book of the same title co-published by the Museum and Skira Rizzoli. This significant addition to design scholarship and material-cultural studies will be comprised of five thematic essays and richly illustrated. Essays will include Magidson’s historical overview of the dynamics of 1960s fashion, from “Camelot” to the Beatles to the “New Nonchalance;” Shaeffer’s technical essay on couture sewing techniques (including Chanel, Courrèges, and Cardin), addressing the history of the “Chanel Copy” and techniques used for prêt-à-porter within the New York fashion industry, where these changes ultimately informed the high-end; Gordon’s critical essay on women’s fashion and feminism in the 1960s and 70s; Steven Bluttal’s essay on the boundary-breaking interplay between fine art and fashion; and Alan Rosenberg’s case study of designer Joan “Tiger” Morse, the New York boutique scene and cutting-edge fabrics.

“Mod New York: Fashion Takes a Trip” will be on view from November 21, 2017 to April 1, 2018. Research and planning for the exhibition and its companion book are already underway and will continue throughout fall 2015 and 2016. The installation of the exhibition will take place in early 2017.  The book will be published concurrently with the exhibition and the Museum’s public and education programs will similarly make use of the exhibition during its planned five-month run.

The Nando and Elsa Peretti Foundation has awarded a grant for this project. The exhibition is expected to attract more than 150,000 national and international visitors. “Mod New York” is intended to be of interest to general audiences as well as to both students and specialists in the fields of design, needle and sewing arts, history and theory of fashion, and women’s and gender studies. For example, through the exhibition, social historians may consider how 1960s fashions reflect key forms of commercial culture, artistic trends, and visual styles that communicate important changes in American history. Fashion scholars may trace how stylistic and structural elements—such as silhouette, fabrication, fit, and construction—fluctuated throughout the decade. Costume designers working today in the stage, screen, and television industries will have a curated collection of resources from which to draw new inspiration.  Recent exhibitions, including “Hippie Chic” (July 16-November 11, 2013) at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, have considered the “high-end” interpretations of hand-made counterculture clothing, focusing on trends promulgated by such well-known designers as Geoffrey Beene, Halston, and Tommy Nutter. “Mod New York,” by contrast, will exhibit not only high-end garments, which form an important core of the Costume Collection, but also hand-made and home-made items by New York designers such as Frederique, whose colorful “Moon Walk” knitwear ensemble made a highly individualized statement on the cultural events of the late 1960s.   Approximately 15 public programs will be presented in association with “Mod New York: Fashion Takes a Trip.” These will include gallery talks, lectures, and panel discussions featuring leading design and fashion scholars and prominent members of the fashion industry. Exhibition Curator Phyllis Magidson and Barbara Cohen-Stratyner, Curator of Exhibitions at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, will reprise their popular lecture on the British Invasion, the Beatles, and 1960s fashion in a lively panel discussion. Additional public programs will address the concurrent waves of feminism and a newly confident body politic that governed women’s fashion in the 1960s and 70s.   A panel discussion about the enduring appeal and complexities of the 1960s in contemporary fashion will feature several New York designers who frequently reference the ‘60s in their work, such as Lisa Perry and Anna Sui, and will be moderated by fashion scholar Laird Borrelli-Persson. A panel on “The Intersection of Fashion, Craft and DIY” will address the craft and artisanal aspects of clothes-making, which characterized fashion in both the 1920s and the 1960s and, to a lesser extent, today (via such communities as Etsy). This panel will be moderated by author and lecturer Claire Schaeffer, who has written many articles and books on sewing and sewing techniques.  Education programs based on “Mod New York: Fashion Takes a Trip” will be organized by the Museum’s Frederick A.O. Schwarz Children’s Center. The exhibition will be featured prominently in a popular Highlights tour for adult and school groups. The distinctive garments and rich social history presented in the exhibition narrative will provide the inspiration for the Center’s signature Family Programs, offered on weekends to the general public and to families living in New York’s homeless shelters. Museum educators will develop an interactive Family Program for “Mod New York” using the distinctive garments and accessories in the exhibition as the object-based inspiration for a creative, hands-on design activity.

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